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Full text of "My Country And My People"

246          MY    COUNTRY    AND    MY    PEOPLE

by its conflicts of character and its surprises and novelty of
action, and an opera-goer is prepared to spend an evening
during which his intellect is appropriately benumbed and his
senses soothed by music and colour and song.

This accounts for the fact that most dramatic performances
are not worth attending a second time, although people go to
the same operas for the fiftieth time without losing the edge of
their keen enjoyment. Thus it is with the Chinese theatre.
The so-called chinghsi ("Peking plays") has a general repertoire
of less than a hundred pieces which are played over and over
again without losing their popularity. And the people applaud
by shouting "Hao!" invariably at the arias which have the
most intense or intricate musical appeal. Music is therefore
the soul of the Chinese drama, and acting is merely an accessory
to the technique of the opera-singer, and remains on essentially
the same level as that of Western prima donnas.

The Chinese opera-goer, therefore, appraises the Chinese

actor under the two categories of his "singing" (cKang} and his

"acting"  (chuo).   But this so-called "acting" is often purely

technical and consists of certain conventional ways of expressing

emotions—in the West, what is to us the shockingly inartistic

heaving and swelling of the prima donna's chest, and in the

East, what is to Occidentals the ludicrous wiping of a tearless

eye by a long sleeve. If the actor has personal charm and beauty

and a good voice, this modicum of acting is always enough to

satisfy the audience.  But when well done, every gesture may

be beautiful and every pose a perfect tableau.   In this sense,

the popular appreciation of Mei Lanfang by Americans is

essentially  correct,   although  how much  of his  singing is

appreciated as singing may be questioned.   One marvels at

his beautiful poses and gestures, his graceful, white fingers, Ms

long black eyebrows, his feminine gait, his flirtatious side

glances and the whole outfit of his fake sex-appeal—the same

fake  sex-appeal  which  ingratiates  him  with  the  Chinese

audience and is at the back of his tremendous popularity in

China. When done by so great an artist, this appeal is universal,

for it speaks the language of gestures, which is international as

music and dancing are international.  So far as real acting in

the modern sense of the word is concerned, Mei Lanfang may